Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Child Cost (Part 2): Parental Leave

As great as I think the system of maternity leave is, it is not yet fully satisfying and it could be improved by a parental leave system.

A paid parental leave is a set amount of time that two parents can allocate between themselves after the birth of a child. One of the downsides, but also one of the strengths of the parental leave, is precisely that it will be based on the choice of the parents. The mother, the father, or both, can take the leave, simultaneously or not. For instance, if there is a parental leave of 6 months, the mother and the father can take 3 months each. They also can decide that the mother will take 5 months and the father one month or that only one of them will stay with the baby during the entire leave.

Single mothers can take the whole leave. And families that want to live in a traditional way where the woman take all of the leave can still do it.

There are two principal reasons why I advocate establishing such a parental leave.

First, women are still doing much more than men in the matter of household chores in the family. However, young couples seem to have a more egalitarian distribution of the tasks; a lot of things change at the arrival of a baby. By establishing a link between father and children as soon as possible, the father should naturally become more involved in child care going forward.

As women carry all the burden of child caring, we could find some more radical means to make men involved in it (for instance, a mandatory paternity leave). Parental leave is actually not one of these radical means, because it is a soft measure. More and more men nowadays want to be involved in the care and education of their children. Parental leave that is not mandatory for men, will simply let the possibility for some fathers to access that.

The second point I want to talk about is linked to a characteristic of women. But before I go on, let me say that “Cultural Feminism” does not convince me, simply because most of the time, as I am reading characteristics that women are supposed to have, I do not see them in my own personality. Furthermore, I find them in a lot of my male friends’ personalities. Neither I think that biology has such still a huge impact in every aspects of life. However, some biological characteristics should be taken into account, and the recovering need of the body after delivery is one of them.

A friend of mine, a medical school graduate, told me about his experience as a volunteer in Guinea. After giving birth, women there must rest. They focus in feeding the baby and resting in order for their body to recover. Other members of the family (generally mother, grandmother, sisters) assume most part of the care given to the children, except feeding. In our occidental society, the presence of other members of the family is rarer nowadays. But physical tiredness still exists. In this sense, and in order to compensate the absence of other members of the family, the involvement of the father could really help during the first days following birth, a stressful and difficult period even when there is no post partum depression.

I also found a significant number of articles mentioning researches that demonstrate the benefits of the mother-newborn relationship at the beginning of their lives. I am pretty sure that the father-child relationship has some great benefits, too, at least the one to build a strong link between them that will lead to more implication of fathers in matters of child caring.

However the support of the father could be important in the first days after birth, most of the couples will try to optimize their leave. They will generally not take the leave in the same time, in order for the child to spend longer time with one of the parent.

Moreover, the choice of the parents will actually not be a true one, because it is linked with other aspects. Indeed, money will be most of the time a decisive factor. As women’s salaries are still not equal to men’s salaries everything else being equal, neither the assessment of “typically” feminine jobs, the decision will probably be made by the couple relatively to the higher salary. So it may not help as well as a more coercive measure, but it will at least let men who consider paternity as something important and valuable to be a part of child care and rearing.

Parental paid leave may be considered as a feature of formal equality, in the sense that the law will show that there is no reason to treat men and women in a different way. As a measure that can be considered as tending to formal equality, it could be addressed the same reproach than previously, namely that women are fighting for men to benefit from some advantages which only women had. But from my point of view, it will benefit women and children, also, even if it’s in an indirect way.

Moreover, I find it deeply fair that men have the same right as women to take care of their children, because as most of the feminists, my goal is to reach equality among human beings. At the end, everybody wins from this improvement, children, men and women. And I hope that at the time of a pregnancy, my family could benefit from such a system.


Jessica S. said...

I think parental leave is a great starting point. If we do not give people flexible options, it reinforces gender roles. Also, many women are being pressured into not taking leave time. It's sad, but if men had the option to use the time, I think policies would be enforced better. Businesses would not want to get caught approving a man's request while they go back and forth with a woman's.

Sara said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sara said...

I agree that paid parental leave would be a great reform to the current system. However, before we reach parental leave, I think the United States needs to legally require paid maternity leave. This country has dragged its feet about guaranteeing women undergoing the physical and emotional stress of childbirth paid leave. This makes me skeptical about the likelihood of paid parental leave in the near future. Then again, as Jessica mentioned, maybe some would see requiring leave for both parents as "fair" and more acceptable. Either way, there needs to be systematic change before there is progress in this (so far) losing battle.